Women, War and Peace

Yes, we’re taking a line from the upcoming PBS series in today’s missive. But the announcement in the wee hours of the morning (local time) that a trio of women campaigning for peace in Africa and the Arab world had won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize made us think that this is a good topic for today.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Africa is Libera’s first elected female president (a feat we have yet to accomplish in the United States) and her choice is controversial. She’s a leader who is in the midst of a heated election campaign in her home country and who is much more admired abroad than in Liberia. Her fellow countrywoman, Leymeh GBowee, is the head of the Women for Peace movement, and was lauded for reaching across religious boundaries to unite Muslim and Christian women against the warlords who dominate Liberia. The third woman, Tawakul Karman of Yemen, is a pro-democracy demonstrator who was instrumental in the events of the Arab Spring.

So why should a blog about World War II veterans concern itself with peace prizes? Because these women, like the women we’ve talked to about their World War II experiences, were agitating for change. Some saw their wartime roles as a temporary sacrifice which would ultimately result in a shorter war, others saw joining the military as a way to prove that women could to the same work men did (and get paid the same).

Congratulations to this year’s Nobel Prize winners.

Va-va-va-Vargas

The World War II-era pin-up art is quite amazing. It’s no surprise that scholars like Walt Reed have dubbed the era “the golden age” of the pin-up.  Think about it: pin-ups were everywhere, from magazines like Esquire to the noses of planes to even personal snapshots (check out our friend Maria Elena Buzek’s fascinating book Pin-Up Grrls for a discussion of that phenomena). The director’s mother – the WAVE who inspired this project – had a collection of drawings she did during the war era of women in pin-up guise. They were everywhere.

This is a recruitment poster for the WAVES and SPARs done by pin-up artist George Petty. Petty was the “establishment” when it came to pin-ups – he pretty much created the famous Esquire pin-up centerfolds. But when he left the magazine in 1940, his role was taken over by an young upstart, Antonio Vargas.  His pin-ups (dubbed “Varga Girls”) made the Petty pin-ups look tame by comparison: buxom, long legs, tiny waists – to contemporary eyes a combination of Barbie doll and Playboy centerfold.

This image came from a calendar Esquire ran during the war – which featured a WAVE-to-be. The poem alongside her reads:

I’m going to join the Navy WAVES and help the war to halt, and also show my Navy beau that I am worth my “Salt!”

Vargas also did the SPARs recruitment poster, below.

Public Domain, Copyright and Other Issues

So we’re chugging along on the film and various ancillary projects and this discussion came up with our Production Assistant today (Laura, who’s temporarily stepped aside from the wonderful work she’s been doing on the blog to work on the Homefront Heroines TagWhat project): when does something move into the public domain?

We’re considering works originally published during World War II, films and newsreels for the most part. According to copyright law, the works might be in the public domain. Then again, they might not. It all depends upon if the copyright was renewed or not. If it wasn’t, the work is in the public domain. If not, a film produced in 1944 would remain copyright protected until 2039.

We understand (and fully support) copyright protections. It keeps the creator of the work in control of how the work is distributed.  That’s a good thing. However, where it gets muddy is when a corporation uses film produced by a public entity, such as the U.S. government, and then masks its production of the film in copyright. We’re running into that issue with newsreels right now. Much of the footage is government produced – yet the copyright in some cases is held by a film studio. Or, a film produced by a studio has fallen out of copyright, but the production company who repackages the material claims they have “copyright” on the production. Not exactly. On the DVD packaging, yes. On the film itself, not so much.

Muddy areas. Frustrating areas. And all of it is complicated by the web and the publishing that occurs therein.

That being said, this photo is produced by the U.S. Navy. We’re sharing it with you because it is “owned,” as it were, by the U.S. public.

WAVE Airbrushes Photo

Navy WAVE Airbrushes Photo

at Navy Art & Animation Division

Woman in a Man’s World

Janette experienced the good and bad of America’s reaction to women in military service. The concept of women in uniform was completely new to many Americans. They were used to seeing women participate in the military as nurses, but not taking the same jobs as men.

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After more than a year and a half in the service, Janette went home to Indiana to visit friends and family.  She shares one negative encounter she had with the sister of a childhood friend:

” I go in the house, I guess. Her sister was in there. I didn’t know her sister. I had never met her sister. I was in uniform because you had to wear them all the time.  And her sister said …

‘I want you to leave!’ Just as soon as I stepped in the door.

She wanted me to leave; I couldn’t imagine what was going on.  And Teresa, this friend of mine, said to her … ‘What do you mean?’

She [the sister] said, ‘It’s because of her that my husband has to go out on a ship and any woman in uniform should not be in.’  She said, ‘It’s the worst thing that ever happened to our country.’

You see, from her point of view, that was how she thought. But I, I was astounded.  I just said, ‘Oh, no, they need everybody.’ … Then I turned around and left. There was no point in arguing or anything.  But I’ll never forget that because that was a shocker.”

Janette also had positive experiences where she was honored for her service in touching ways.  She shares about an experience she had in the bus station while returning to the base from her visit home:

“I was walking through the station and a very elderly man said, ‘Ma’am?’ And I looked at him. He said, ‘Here’s 50 cents I would like to give you.’

And I said, ‘Oh, no.  I don’t need that. I’m going back to the base.’  

He said, ‘No, I just want to give it to some service person.’

I kept saying, no, but finally I saw he was so patriotic he just wanted to give it — see, it almost makes me cry to think about it.  And I so I took it and thanked him and went on. That was his contribution. I’ll never forget that.”

Tomboy

Janette finished a bachelor’s degree at Purdue University. She minored in physical education, which was her passion and got her major in home economics. Through her four years in school she spent most of her free time in the gymnasium as a member of the athletic association.

When she graduated she got a job teaching home economics and coordinating 4H in an high school in northern Indiana, but she didn’t stay there for long. Pearl Harbor was struck and the very next day Janette signed up for the WAVES.

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(‘Coach Janette’ pictured above on the bottom row, left.)

Her love for sports started when she was a child. Her father was an avid sports fan and would play catch with Janette and her sister after he came in from working in the fields at night.

After officer training, Janette was sent back to Pensacola as an athletic officer. She and another WAVE set up an athletic program so that the women could pick and choose athletic activities each day in order to fulfill their physical fitness requirements. She even arranged for the WAVES to have athletic clothes that they could use, since their uniform set didn’t include anything suitable for playing sports.
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“If a man could check out shorts or get shorts, see, for the activity, so could the women. See that was the first time I’d come up with equality.” – Janette Alpaugh

Janette Shaffer Alpaugh

Janette Alpaugh (Shaffer at the time), originally from Indiana, joined the WAVES in January 1943. She was part of the second class of WAVES to attend boot camp in Cedar Falls, Iowa. After boot camp she applied to become a Link trainer, where she learned how to instruct men who were training as pilots in flight simulation. Janette was stationed in Pensacola, Fla., as a link trainer before she went on to become a WAVES officer.

She grew up on a big farm, north of Indianapolis, where she says she was raised like a boy. While Janette’s girlfriends were helping their mothers in the kitchen, Janette and her sister were helping her father with the farm. The family only had one boy,  Janette’s younger brother, and everyone’s help was needed. Her time working on the farm, however, gave her a passion for hard work and athletics. Photobucket
“[My Father] treated us just like boys. We did farm work that any boy our age would have done.”

The Duties of a Servicewoman

At radio school in Madison, Wis., Helen learned Morse code and did communications work during the first part of the war.  She and the other girls in the office would receive 24-hour news through the teletype machine and they were responsible to hand out a printed version and pass along any important information.  They also communicated to other bases through code and operated telephone banks.

In November of 1943, Helen began working at the Air Traffic Control on the main base in Corpus Christi.  There she worked with pilots, giving weather conditions, keeping track of flights and controlling the flow of air traffic.  SNJ planes were used for training during World War II and Helen’s first airplane ride was on one of these small aircraft.  Pictured below are two Navy WAVES washing an SNJ training plane in Florida.

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(U.S. Navy Photograph)

Helen and her husband, Chuck, who was a pilot, later bought their own SNJ plane. They are pictured below riding in the plane over Palm Springs, Calif.
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Something About Men in Uniform

Helen speaks boldly about what it was like to date service men during wartime. She admits that it was difficult knowing they may be shipped out the next day and never return. “We needed love,” she says.

Below: One of the men Helen dated for nearly a year, Bill from Arkansas.  The girls jokingly called him the “greek god” because of his good looks and  Helen complains that other women were always hitting on him in front of her.

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“We were young and we were at the peak or our hormones and there was a damn war going on. There was a war going on.  OK, we went to bed with guys. We made love. It felt good. It felt safe. It wasn’t something that we were running around getting money for or doing every days. We were in some people’s eyes, promiscuous. In my eyes, we were normal.”

Helen met her husband, Chuck, a commercial pilot, in the Los Angeles airport after the war where she worked in an airport restaurant. Their first date, oddly enough was at a strip club, and it was something they laughed about from that day on.  They were married in Los Angeles in March of 1951.

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“Chuck was 6 foot 4 inches, good-looking, and my favorite thing – a pilot.”

Partners in Crime

Helen’s mother came to visit her in Corpus Christi. Some of the girls, along with Helen, took her to Port Aransas or Mustang Island, off the coast. She took photos of some of the WAVES, insisting they pose on the beach in nothing but their underpants and bras. (Helen is third from the left.)

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“I loved the water …  the ocean is my main thing.”

Though the war was full of horrible things and hard times, Helen wanted to make the best of it.  For her, the easiest way to get through the difficulty was to have fun and embrace those around her.  She grew particularly close to a fellow WAVE named Theda, and they were “partners in crime.”  Theda gained a reputation for sneaking into town in her civilian clothes and was continually getting into trouble for it.  Helen is pictured below (third from the right) with friends, celebrating at the Swan Club.
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“And I remember … a big ol’ Texan that listened to us all arguing one night to the pros and cons of women in the Navy and he sat back and he looked around and he said, well, one thing I can tell y’all. Sure smells better around here.”

Little Helen Edgar

Helen was born in Philadelphia, but because of the Depression, when she was young, her family moved to New Jersey so that her father could find work.  She had one older brother, Jim, who also enlisted in the Navy, shortly after Helen.

Helen started working soda fountain and drugstore jobs when she was 15 and she jokes about going from job to job.  Her life plan was to go to college, get married and have kids. The strike on Pearl Harbor, in 1941, changed her plans and sent her on an adventure into the WAVES.

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“I got fired a lot. I gave too much ice cream to my friends.”